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Unmasked Middle Schoolers Face Detention in Derry

Parents of West Running Brook Middle School students in Derry are being warned that children who do not wear “properly-fitted masks” will be sent to special detention sessions, according to an email obtained by New Hampshire Journal.

Principal Justin Krieger recently wrote to parents that the need for well-fitted masks is required for all activities in the building. Students who fail to comply will be punished.

“Students who are unable to wear a properly-fitted mask despite encouragement, prompts, and support from staff will be assigned an after-school detention on Friday (2:00-2:30 p.m.) of each week,” Krieger wrote.

The purpose of the detention is not to punish the students, he explained, but instead to educate the middle schoolers on the importance of wearing masks.

“We will use this time in concert with our school nurse to provide more education for students to stress the importance of compliance,” Krieger wrote.

Krieger did not respond to a call on Monday from New Hampshire Journal. Derry Cooperative School Board Chair Erika Cohen did not answer questions on Monday about whether or not the board agreed with Krieger’s policy. 

“This was a school-based decision. The school board was not involved,” Cohen wrote in an email.

Krieger wrote in the email to parents that the special detention will be dedicated to “education.”

“Students deserve to understand the ‘why’ of mask-wearing and we intend to dedicate all this time to that end,” he wrote.

The new policy is not intended to punish students who occasionally have their masks below their noses, but it is aimed at students who “chronically” fail to wear their masks properly, he wrote.

State Rep. David Love, R-Derry, said Kieger is in the wrong with the new detention policy. As far as Love is concerned, masks don’t work.

“I think he’s stepping way out of bounds. I don’t know where this is all going to end. Masks, they don’t work. People have been wearing masks and getting vaccines and the vaccinated and masked are still getting COVID,” Love said.

Love has introduced a bill that would allow parents of students in a school that requires masks to transfer to another school at no expense to the family.

“The bottom line is the schools are going to do as they damn well please until we hit them in the pocketbook,” Love said. 

While Rockingham County is seeing high levels of COVID-19 transmission, the middle school does not appear to be overrun with cases, according to the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services’ COVID-19 dashboard.

As of Jan. 21, the latest reporting date available, West Running Brook had two active cases in the school community. The state dashboard does not distinguish between student cases and staff cases, so it is not clear if those infected are children or adults. The dashboard indicates there are no current outbreaks or clusters within the West Running Brook community. 

While there is no statewide mask mandate, schools, municipalities, and businesses are free to craft their own policies. Most schools in the state have been requiring the use of masks indoors since late fall, according to WMUR’s list of more than 400 school mask decisions.

The need for masks may start to change quickly, as many health experts expect the Omicron variant to peak in the coming weeks. Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former FDA commissioner, said this week on “Face the Nation ” that it is too soon to get rid of masks in schools, but that could change rapidly.

“I think it is too soon to do that because a lot of schools have built their preparations around the use of masks and whatever we want to say about the benefit that masks are providing, it’s providing some benefit,” Gottlieb said. “So, to withdraw it right at the peak of the epidemic, I think it’s imprudent. We should wait. I think within two weeks we’ll be able to make that decision.”

NH Grocery Store Shelves Looking Bare as Prices Rise

On Tuesday, the U.S. Labor Department announced the inflation rate hit 7 percent, the fastest pace of price hikes on Americans since 1982. But some shoppers are asking: What difference does it make when prices rise if there’s nothing in the stores to buy?

In New Hampshire and across the nation, shoppers are finding grocery store shelves that, while they aren’t empty, they are far from fully stocked. The hashtag #BareShelvesBiden has begun to take off.

Grocery store supplies are dwindling across the country as grocery store supply chains fall victim to the Omicron surge, and recent bad weather is leaving the Northeast hardest hit.

It’s not all bad news, according to Bruce Bergeron, chairman of the New Hampshire Grocers Association’s board of directors. He said the supply issues are going to hit large chains hardest in New Hampshire, as those stores rely on frequent shipments, while smaller stores are so far still able to get stock. 

“It’s a matter of scale. The smaller stores are not selling in large quantities and don’t have the same pressures,” he said.

Supply chains are suffering from a variety of problems, from lack of staffing to weather delays. Add in the latest round of COVID-19 illness and many shoppers are finding bare shelves and fewer choices.

“We’re really seeing the perfect storm,” Phil Lempert, editor of the website, recently told NPR.

According to Lempert, the Northeast is facing some of the worst shortages now, due in part to recent winter storms that snarled transportation routes. 

Albertsons CEO Vivek Sankaran told investors in a recent call he had anticipated supply chain issues from earlier in the pandemic would have eased by now. That expectation has been upended by the Omicron variant surge.

“We were expecting supply issues to get more resolved as we got into this period right now. Omicron has put a bit of a dent on that. There are more supply challenges and we would expect more challenges over the next four or six weeks,” Sankaran said.

Albertsons has nearly 3,000 grocery stores nationally, and the chain is not alone. Discount grocery chain Aldi, which has 2,000 stores, recently posted an apology to shoppers because supply chain problems have left it without many advertised items.

“We are experiencing shipping delays and are working around the clock to fix it. We know it is frustrating and we are sorry for any and all inconveniences,” the store stated in the apology.

The Aldi chain is relatively new to New Hampshire, with about a dozen stores opened in the Granite State in the past few years. 

Bergeron said the biggest concern for New Hampshire grocers and shoppers right now isn’t what’s in stock, but how to pay for it with the increasingly rising inflation.

“Inflation is real and it affects people’s pocketbooks. And it’s present in everything grocery stores sell,” he said. 

Skyrocketing inflation means the cost of necessary goods like food and fuel continues to rise, eating away at the recent wage increases many workers have seen. Bergeron said Granite Staters are going to likely deal with inflation for a long time to come.

“There’s no escaping that,” he said.

Bergeron noted signs of the current inflationary crunch were present for years. Home prices and wages have been climbing in New Hampshire since before the pandemic, he said, forcing up the price of everything else. 

“In my business, we started seeing this five years ago. I knew it would result in some inflation at the retail level,” he said.

As inflation started shooting up in the fall, President Joe Biden’s Federal Trade Commission responded by opening investigations into grocery store chains and suppliers, like Keene’s C&S Wholesale Grocery. C&S is the largest supplier for grocery stores nationwide. Company representative Lauren La Bruno did not respond to a request for comment.

The FTC issued orders in late November to Walmart,, Kroger, C&S, Associated Wholesale Grocers, McLane Co., Procter & Gamble, Tyson Foods, and Kraft Heinz Co. demanding they provide data showing how their individual supply chains have been managed since the start of the pandemic.

Most economists dismiss that effort as political theater.

“Beef, pork, and poultry all have their own supply and demand market fundamentals,” explained Meat Institute President and CEO Julie Potts. She said the real engine of higher meat prices is “rising input costs, rising fuel costs, supply chain difficulties and labor shortages that impact the price of meat on the retail shelf.”

Russ Atherton, owner of The Local Butcher, a meat processing business in Barnstead, N.H., agrees.

“Regionally, we’re coming off a year when feed prices were through the roof and the feed supply was really short,” he told NHJournal. “Fuel and grain costs are way up, too. A ton of fertilizer two years ago was $280. Now they’re forecasting the price at $1,300 this spring.

“When the input prices are going up across the board, you can’t say [meat producers] are just ripping people off,” Atherton said.